Frame Foundry: System Clarity

After building numerous frame companies and demoing the game to tons of people, I’ve really started to focus on keeping the systems on my builds as obvious and clear as possible. Building a frame where anyone unfamiliar with them can just look at it and the rest of the company and accurately guess what the loadouts are is an aspect of frame building that doesn’t get a ton of attention, and I think it should. Let me give you an example.

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The Fat Snakes here are great aesthetically, but try to determine what the build is just by looking at them. The only clear things you can pull are that they have two weapon systems (the rifle and the pilebunker), and a SSR. Everything else is up in the air, and in fact, even the rifle is unclear. Does the bayonet on the rifle make it a split system? Is it just for show? Well, the loadout is 1 direct fire, 1 hand to hand, 1 defense, and 1 movement. Okay so we know what the weapons are now, but what about the others? Its pretty safe to assume the chest piece is the defensive system as that’s how the standard chub works, and you’d be correct there. But what about movement? Its actually the big feet for the legs. Which at first glance is fine, but what happens when you want a fat snake without a movement system? Now you either have to change the aesthetic by changing the leg design or have a frame that looks like it has a system that it doesn’t.

While experienced MFZ players may not have any trouble with having a company like this at the table, newer players probably will not remember what everything is, and with the community for MFZ still being very young chances are there is at least one newer player at your table.

Now let’s take a look at a frame with very concise and clear systems.

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Despite the fact that the picture above labels the systems, anyone looking at the frame would be very likely to guess every system correctly. Its also very clear as to what is the base frame and what are the systems. There aren’t any “integrated” systems that could confuse another player. When you have your systems designed like this it becomes very simple to create a similar aesthetic and unification across your whole company.

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Here we have an artillery variant of the same frame. The direct fire weapon and defensive system have been removed and an artillery system was added to the back, using the larger size and positioning to imply an indirect fire weapon. Then by adding another module to the sensor, a second spotting system is created.

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For this hand to hand focused variant we kept the movement and defensive systems and added a pilebunker for the hand to hand system. Then a large jump jet was added as an additional movement system. Again, everything is fairly obvious to someone unfamiliar with the frame.

So what’s the benefit of designing your company with these things in mind? The two biggest benefits are speed and ease of learning for new players. Both yourself and your opponents will know what’s on the table and what frames are capable of at a glance, which helps speed up decision making and dice rolls. Newer players will be able to focus on the rules of the game as opposed to trying to remember what the frame can do. Being able to get through a game with three brand new players in about an hour and a half is almost impossible without system clarity, and as someone who demos MFZ, time is invaluable.

What have you done to keep your systems and your frames recognizable?

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3 thoughts on “Frame Foundry: System Clarity

  1. This is a really important issue, since the whole game revolves around the systems. I try to design systems that are not only visible, but also easy to detach when the frames take damage. That usually makes them stand out a bit, too.

    Generally, systems should have enough bulk, so they stand out from any decorative pieces. Using distinct colors or pieces also helps – for example, I like to use some transluscent color exclusively in SSRs, so they pop out.

  2. Using the feet or legs themselves as a movement system seems fundamentally flawed to me, even though the book itself suggests it. You are encouraged to remove them last because a biped will not be able to stand, and a quad(etc) will look like it’s missing white dice instead. Much prefer the movement accessories shown in your latter examples.

    I exaggerate my systems and keep them seperate for ease of teaching. Big radar dishes, jets, shields and the like. Weapons are tricky, if only because teaching a new player that 1 weapon equals 2 red d6 seems to be a big sticking point. To combat this with my demo companies at PAX east, I paired two smaller, adjacent weapons to represent a single system (mandibles for HtH, autocannons for Dir, missiles for Art) and either supplemented that with a larger, seperate system (a stinging tail for HtH, a rotary cannon for Dir) or just doubled up on these large, exaggerated systems (two howitzers for Art) to represent the second weapon system.

    In full games, I distinguish my SSRs by using megablocks rpg7 warheads. Very distinct and simple to attach/remove from just about anywhere.

  3. There’s a technique for marking systems that dates back to the Mechaton days that seems to have fallen into disuse. We used to “tag” systems with an appropriate Trans-Color piece. I know this could screw up the color schemes of some nicely built Frames, but it is a quick way to eyeball a loadout.

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